Amateur paleontologist Kris Howe, 34, was just doing what he learned as a 5-year-old from his father, a fossil collector. But his recent discovery is being hailed as one of the most significant in years.
On a fossil hunt near the dam spillway at Lake Grapevine, Howe happened upon four bones that two Dallas scientists say are the oldest bird fossils found in North America.
"My first thought was, 'Wow, that's pretty cool looking. I wish I knew what it was,'" Howe said of spotting the arrangement of fossils poking out from the ground, each "within centimeters" of the others.
"It was an excitement that started with (Howe) and cascaded from there," said scientist Tony Fiorello, curator of earth sciences for the Dallas Museum of Nature and Science.
The fossilized bones are about 96 million years old and from a previously undiscovered species of flightless, carnivorous bird that probably resembled a modern roadrunner, museum paleontologist Ron Tykoski said at a Thursday news conference to announce the discovery.
The largest fossil, a shoulder blade, measured about 2.5 inches. Fused metacarpals, or hand bones, suggested the bird had claws, and therefore teeth, to feed on other creatures in this region, a coastal area in that time.
A section of lower leg bone was also found. Another bone could not be positively identified because of its poor condition, but the scientists speculate it could be a part of the bird's upper wing.
Together, the fossils are "reminiscent of what you might find in the bottom of a KFC bucket," Fiorello said. But they help close a gap in the evolutionary timeline of prehistoric birds, Tykoski said.
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